April 2023 Update: Google Analytics 4 (GA4) largely sidesteps these issues, and we will install GA4 on your websites on request.  You can read more about the Privacy-centric features introduced here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/12017362?hl=en

Here are some changes you need to know about if you have a website(s) built by and/or hosted by mtstudios. This is a long post, but we recommend at least a thorough skim. We’ve tried to keep it as non-technical as possible but wanted to keep you abreast of a change within ICO & PECR regulations, how it affects you and how we are tackling the issue.

What changes are happening and how do they affect you?

If you have a website with mtstudios, we will be removing Google Analytics from your website, the week starting 20th September 2021.

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free tool provided by Google since 2005. It is installed on over 30 million websites and tracks visitor numbers and visitor behaviour. We considered it to be a very valuable tool and mtstudios added it for free to all the websites we built so we could provide visitor information to our clients, or spot problems with visitor behaviour.

Why are we removing Google Analytics?

Two things have happened recently that make Google Analytics a legal liability, or ineffective:

Clarified Regulations

Firstly, the UK Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has recently confirmed that Analytics tools (and their cookies) are not exempt from the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) and, for once, have specifically stated that Consent must be sought before third-party (Google) tracking of your visitors can occur.

The ICO’s Chunky Cookie Banner

This means you have to ask permission from your visitor before analytics can be enabled with one of those annoying “Reject / Accept / Tell me More” Cookie Managers. As that permission has to be sought up-front, the only way to do this is with a big banner that dominates the screen, forcing your visitor to start their experience of your website with an irritating legalese distraction.

We cannot recommend this, as Cookie Managers like this increase the number of people that immediately leave your website – and if they were to click “Reject” – which many do instinctively – you can’t track them anyway, meaning your analytics statistics are simply wrong, as the numbers won’t be a true representation of how many visits you had, etc. It feels like the opposite of a win-win!

Possible Legal Liability

Secondly, in the spirit of greed & personal gain, some of our clients have started to receive legal claims for “distress” caused by “sharing my information with Google, an American company without getting my consent.” Damages sought have been in the region of £700 so far, but there is no limit to how many claims could be made against your website (one per visitor) if it enables any kind of third-party analytics or tracking without prior consent.

We have had two such letters forwarded to us in the last month, so this trend is on the rise. As far as we can see, such claims are frivolous and untested in court, but at this point, the balance of risk vs. benefit leans away from running Google Analytics at all.

Will removing Google Analytics create a problem for you?

Some website owners – those that need to keep an eye on website visitors, perhaps as they are planning to sell their business or want to see the impact of recent improvements – will miss Google Analytics. For the majority, you will not miss a report you have perhaps never looked at. If you are concerned, we have a solution below.

Will there be a charge for removing Google Analytics?

No. We will remove it free of charge. You do not need to do anything.

What are the alternatives?

We have researched first-party, cookie-free WordPress analytics solutions and have trialled an alternative called Matomo (https://matomo.org). When configured correctly, their Analytics never leave your website and do not rely on cookies to function. As such, their solution has no GDPR / Cookie Regulation / PECR implications. Their reporting tools are available within your website and are easy to use and understand. If this is something you’re interested in, let us know by getting in touch before the 18th September 2021 and for a fee, we will add Matomo at the same time that Google Analytics is removed.

For sites that aren’t based on WordPress there is an “on-site” install of Matomo available with the same advantages. Contact us for more information.

What if you want to keep Google Analytics?

If you wish to keep Google Analytics, we must have this in writing, so let us know by replying to this email before the 18th September 2021. We would strongly recommend installing a “Cookie Consent Manager”, which we can do for you, or you can take the risk and have Google Analytics run by default for all visitors. If you want to take this risk, we will need your request in writing in case of frivolous claims in the future.

What about third-party cookies from other companies?

Over the coming months, we will be doing audits to make sure your website(s) complies with these evolving regulations, and we may be in touch again to deal with other third-party Cookies, such as Facebook or YouTube. If you would like us to do a priority audit on your website, please contact us.